Technical drink tasting is a skill that takes years to develop and can be applied across all alcohol categories. So, when the opportunity comes along to gain some insight from a master it’s worth taking and that’s exactly what happened with Privateer Rum’s Maggie Campbell on her Technical Tasting, Demystifying Aromas and Flavours webinar.
Throughout the webinar, Maggie took viewers on a deep dive into the philosophy of spirt tasting and provided tips on how to translate flavour into an emotional sensation.
Understanding the basics
Maggie kicked things off with a great introduction to the basics of spirit tasting and the kind of glassware to use. Her advice was to keep it simple, using the same glass to taste rum, whisky, beer and any other alcoholic beverage.
When looking to expand your vocabulary on what’s being tasted, Maggie pointed out that it’s important to identify the style and intention of a drink i.e. is it hitting the mark by being subtle and elegant or it going full throttle on the palate. It’s the idea that you have to be able to picture something to be able to describe it won’t always be the same flavour for different people.
Another fascinating aspect of the webinar was using taste for structure and texture. Maggie suggested that listing flavours without providing context makes it difficult to separate a rum from a whisky or a gin from a beer. By using words such as broad, linear, firm and supple, a spirit is given more context.
When describing the texture of a spirit, it’s helpful to use fabric analogies like velvety, silky, powdery and gritty.
The language of tasting
During the second half of the webinar, Maggie took viewers through each step of identifying the characteristics of a rum. For first impressions, it’s important to focus on colour, clarity, viscosity and rim and a good rule to follow is to pour a small amount into a glass, spin it and look for any gradation, which can be an indicator of ageing for certain kinds of rum.
For describing smell, Maggie’s method is to examine any flaws, check the purity and categorise any primary, secondary and tertiary aromas. Learning about these three points was interesting, as Maggie came at them from the perspective of a distiller. The last part of the smelling phase should involve aroma definition i.e. do scents blend together immediately or can they be described individually, followed by three key indicators of what has been detected.
In the tasting stage, Maggie set out the first attack, mid palate, and finish for an indicator of how a spirit should be experienced in the mouth. In particular, the finish is crucial because it’s an extension of how persistent the good flavours of a drink are.
The final part of the webinar delved into the quality of a spirit, with factors such as balance, typicity and evolution all needing to be examined. The evolution of a drink is an intriguing way of thinking, as it denotes how a drink changes over time. Another great point Maggie brought up was the idea of a spirit’s point of view, in the sense that it needs to tell a unique story through flavour in order to distinguish itself from another on the market.
Not only did the webinar help to improve my drink vocabulary, it’s given me a greater appreciation for doing technical spirit tasting. Maggie’s passion is infectious and I’m definitely going to apply her insight into my own rum reviews and experiment with different descriptors.